[Humanist] 26.356 the thrill and danger of proof

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Oct 8 07:22:47 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 356.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org



        Date: Sun, 7 Oct 2012 15:09:39 +0000
        From: "Snijder, R." <R.Snijder at aup.nl>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 26.353 the thrill and danger of proof
        In-Reply-To: <20121007075903.39A9E2DD1 at digitalhumanities.org>

This may not be *exactly* what you need, but maybe it's interesting.

In "Hogfather" by Terry Pratchett, a 'computer' gets the task to start believing in Hogfather (the novel's version of Santa Claus), in order to help save him.

Regards,
-ronald-

Ronald Snijder
Project Manager Digital Publications

Amsterdam University Press
Herengracht 221
1016 BG Amsterdam
tel: +31 (0)20 420 0050
fax: +31 (0)20 420 3214
e-mail: r.snijder at aup.nl
www.aup.nl

________________________________________
Van: humanist-bounces at lists.digitalhumanities.org [humanist-bounces at lists.digitalhumanities.org] namens Humanist Discussion Group [willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk]
Verzonden: zondag 7 oktober 2012 9:59
To: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Onderwerp: [Humanist] 26.353 the thrill and danger of proof

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 353.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>     (79)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?

  [2]   From:    Laval Hunsucker <amoinsde at yahoo.com>                      (78)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?

  [3]   From:    lachance at chass.utoronto.ca                                (16)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?

  [4]   From:    "Dr. Robert Delius Royar PhD"                             (11)
                <r.royar at moreheadstate.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?

  [5]   From:    amsler at cs.utexas.edu                                      (11)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2012 09:02:56 +0200
        From: Joris van Zundert <joris.van.zundert at huygens.knaw.nl>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?
        In-Reply-To: <20121005050316.0D82C6081 at digitalhumanities.org>


Interesting question. My guess is actually 'no', but indeed that is a
guess, just based on some annecdotal memories. I think
computation/computers mostly are just props to either make the character(s)
relying on them trustworthy experts, cynister creepy scientist, or mere
poor inept human souls.

To my mind springs 'The Last Question' by Isaac Asimov.

Adam Douglas' famous computed answer '42' from the Hitchiker's Guide to the
Galaxy.

And poor Robin Dempsey from David Lodge's Small World.

These instances suggest a more ambivelent relationship to computers than as
instruments of proof, they seem to be rather instruments that stress the
human condition.

Best
--Joris

On Friday, October 5, 2012, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 350.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org<javascript:;>
>
>
>
>         Date: Thu, 04 Oct 2012 10:44:26 +0100
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk<javascript:;>
> >
>         Subject: a mathematical thriller
>
>
> Some here will be interested in Chris Pearson's new novel, Proof of
> Death. I take the following description from Amazon.
>
> > Lawyer Richard Troy doesn't do mathematics. But when he accepts
> > Chechen number theorist Aslan Ivanov as a client, he realises that
> > life, love and death are all part of the same equation.
> >
> > Aslan possesses a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis – a mathematical
> > proposition that has defied academics for 150 years. With the power
> > to unlock public key encryption across the internet, blowing open all
> > online financial transactions in the process, the proof is priceless.
>  > ...
>
> Many years ago Dick Francis published a thriller centred on a computer
> program developed to predict the outcome of horse races. (A colleague of
> mine at the time, inspired by this novel, wrote such a program; the last
> I heard his winnings were becoming larger and more frequent.) This leads
> me to a question: what other works of fiction involve computers used to
> prove something, but  with dire consequences? Is the computer as a
> mechanism of proof a dominant theme in fiction that features computing?
>
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
> the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
> University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
> (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

--
Drs. Joris J. van Zundert
*Researcher & Developer Digital and Computational Humanities
*
Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands
*Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
*
www.huygens.knaw.nl/en/vanzundert/

-------
*Jack Sparrow: I thought you were supposed to keep to the code.
Mr. Gibbs: We figured they were more actual guidelines.
*



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2012 07:02:59 -0700 (PDT)
        From: Laval Hunsucker <amoinsde at yahoo.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?
        In-Reply-To: <20121005050316.0D82C6081 at digitalhumanities.org>

Willard,

You ask :

> This leads me to a question: what other works of fiction involve
> computers used to prove something, but  with dire consequences?
> Is the computer as a mechanism of proof a dominant theme in
> fiction that features computing?

I'm not sure about dominant theme in fiction, but . . .

How about John Updike's _Roger's version : a novel_  ( Knopf, 1986 ) ?

Amazon's desciption, for what it's worth
( http://www.amazon.com/Rogers-Version-John-Updike/dp/0394554353 ) :

"A born-again computer whiz kid bent on proving the existence of God
on his computer meets a middle-aged divinity professor, Roger Lambert,
who'd just as soon leave faith a mystery. Soon the computer hacker
begins an affair with professor Lambert's wife -- and Roger finds himself
experiencing deep longings for a trashy teenage girl.".

I'll leave it to others to decide whether those "consequences" are "dire" :-) ?


- Laval Hunsucker
  Breukelen, Nederland



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2012 09:26:20 -0400 (EDT)
        From: lachance at chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?
        In-Reply-To: <20121005050316.0D82C6081 at digitalhumanities.org>

Willard

Novels for the list. You might be intrigued by Dirk Gently's Holistic
Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. An room filled with Macintosh computers
and synthesisers functions as a time machine. It is a fine fable.

One of the characters is intimately involved in the cultural aspects of
computing:

<quote>
Richard MacDuff, a young software engineer working for WayForward
Technologies II, owned by Gordon Way. His Anthem software, which is
designed as a spreadsheet, but also has a unique feature to convert
corporate accounts into music, was extremely popular, but he is falling
behind in his deadlines to create an updated version.
</quote>
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirk_Gently's_Holistic_Detective_Agency

Francois Lachance
http://berneval.blogspot.ca/



--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2012 12:12:31 -0400
        From: "Dr. Robert Delius Royar PhD" <r.royar at moreheadstate.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?
        In-Reply-To: <20121005050316.0D82C6081 at digitalhumanities.org>


On 05 Oct 2012, at 01:03, Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> This leads
> me to a question: what other works of fiction involve computers used to
> prove something, but  with dire consequences? Is the computer as a
> mechanism of proof a dominant theme in fiction that features computing?

Two stories I assigned this semester in my science-fiction course are
"The Nine Billion Names of God" (1953) Arthur C. Clark
"How the World Was Saved" (1967) Stanislaw Lem

--
 Dr. Robert Delius Royar PhD, Associate Professor of English
 Morehead State University     r.royar at moreheadstate.edu



--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Fri, 05 Oct 2012 23:58:19 -0500
        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.350 the thrill and danger of proof?
        In-Reply-To: <20121005050316.0D82C6081 at digitalhumanities.org>

I'd probably question whether this is "computing" vs. "mathematics" in
fiction, but regardless of which, it is curious how the genre of the
fiction shapes what are the consequences. These two examples are from
mystery fiction, where apparently (It's not my genre) the computing is
instrumental to a traditional crime being carried out. In
science-fiction, for example, computing (as opposed to robotics) is
usually associated with the emergence of artificial intelligence
capabilities or controlling people by turning them into automatons.
Perhaps the answer here would first be to delimit the genres of
fiction in which computing appears and then determine what its role is
in those genres.






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